My Adventures as a Tour Guide

Volunteer guide Laura Smith reflects on giving tours at Freud's final home.

My first visit to the Freud Museum was nearly 20 years ago.

The Freud Museum at 20 Maresfield Gardens. © Freud Museum London

I was a teacher, bringing a group of A Level students to learn more about the life and work of Sigmund Freud in a way that could never be achieved from a textbook.

Since then I became a Friend of the museum, attending different events, introducing friends and family to the museum as well as continuing to bring student groups.

When I decided to have a change of direction in 2014 and train as a psychotherapist, this gave me the ideal opportunity to become more involved in the life of the museum. I was delighted when my application to become a volunteer tour guide was successful.

A tour guide in training

Under the careful eye of experienced guide Anne Hollinger, I was given thorough training, advice and useful tips. I watched and learned from the experts, including Stefan, Carol and Anne herself.

Painting of five white wolves in a tree.

Painting of the Wolf Man’s Dream by Sergei Pankejeff (the ‘Wolf Man’). © Freud Museum London

I soon realised that the level of knowledge I had from teaching Freud’s theories about the unconscious and about the practice of psychoanalysis was just a fraction of what I needed to know.

Books by and about Freud were quickly purchased and slowly digested, until I finally felt ready to give my own tour, focusing on the topic of dreams.

I was incredibly nervous, but hopefully this didn’t come across to the members of the public who unwittingly joined that first tour. Since then, I have become much more confident, although I can still be thrown by obscure questions or misunderstandings.

House tours are extremely popular!

I recently gave a tour where the group was too large to fit into the study; I asked everyone to have a look at the couch and then meet in the dining room for the last part of the tour.

I spoke about the beautiful Qashqai rug covering the famous psychoanalytic couch, but was quickly interrupted by one visitor who asserted that the rug was a very dull brown colour and not at all as I was describing. I was extremely puzzled – had the rug been removed for some reason and I hadn’t realised? – but thankfully we quite quickly worked out that the visitor had confused Anna Freud’s couch with that of her father.

With the encouragement and support of Tom and other members of museum staff, I have been able to develop into other areas, and I now regularly give full Sunday house tours, as well as tours focusing on Anna Freud. I have become quite passionate about Anna’s life and work, and was recently thrilled to meet a visitor to the museum who had been taught by Anna in the 1970s.

Fascinating visitors

One of the best things about giving tours, apart from being able to share my enthusiasm for all things Freud, is interacting with so many fascinating visitors from all over the world. I never tire of their questions, hearing about their own relationship with psychoanalysis, and understanding what has brought them to visit the museum.

For many it is a kind of pilgrimage, and it is a tremendous privilege to be able to represent the museum to them.

So, to anyone out there who is wondering about becoming a volunteer tour guide, my advice in unequivocal – go for it!

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